Life without Ellie has been a series of painful reminders.
It’s the little things that get you…
Ellie liked to lie on the cold tile in our entryway. I’d have to force my eyes not to look in that direction because I’d still… oddly enough… expect to see her there. Even in my peripheral vision, I’d think I’d see her, front paws splayed out straight, her white chin resting between them, eyes half-closed. I’d have to forcibly tell myself not to look — that it wasn’t real.
I didn’t open the blinds to the back yard for weeks. Same reason. There are these little smudges on the windowpane where she’d bump her nose against the glass to let us know she wanted back in. I haven’t had the heart to wipe them off. Ellie was there once. I wish she still was.
And, then there are the water bottles. My kids are incredibly wasteful with water bottles. They will open brand new ones, take a few sips and then forget about them. It’s a point of contention in our home. But, when I found them, forgotten in corners, toppled over by their beds, scattered around the kitchen table, I’d pour them in Ellie’s bowl. Then, it felt like less of a waste… Plus, Ellie always appreciated bottled water, unlike some people in our house. For the longest, I didn’t know what to do with the water bottles.
When Kyle took Ellie to be put down, I kept watching our driveway, halfway expecting him to bring her straight back. Maybe he’d come up with a good solution in that short drive to the vet. Maybe the vet would come up with a new idea that was destined to work and he’d come bounding in with renewed hope and our no-worse-for-the-wear pup. So, I kept all her stuff just as she left it… her water and food dishes as they were, her medicine in the cabinet, her food in the bin, her leash hanging on the peg. Even after Kyle came home without her, I still couldn’t bring myself to move anything… just in case. I’m not sure what that “case” was, but it felt right even if it didn’t make sense.
Eventually someone took up the bowls. I think it was Kyle. I saw them in the garage. But, everything else is just as it was. Whenever I’d open the cabinet that was hers in the laundry room, I’d see her things and think I should throw them out. But, it’s easier to just shut the cabinet, so I’d do that instead.
We had a rhythm with Ellie. It was such a seamless part of our lives that we hardly even noticed it. We let her out at certain times, in at certain times, filled her bowls at certain times, bathed her at certain times. But, now I go to the door, touch the knob and then realize my brain’s gotten it all wrong again.
Ellie was never much of a guard dog. No one would find our half-blind, lethargic dog a threat. But, she made me feel safe. After Ellie died, I felt so insecure in our home. It didn’t feel the same. There was one less set of eyes – even old, dimmed eyes – on this house and these little people. I depended on her.
We told the kids that we’d look for another puppy after our vacation (more on that later), but I fully expected it would take months, maybe even a year, to find just the right dog. I didn’t really know what I wanted. Well, that’s not true… I wanted Ellie back. But, as far as what was realistic, I didn’t know.
Part of me felt like no dog would compare to Ellie, so why put one in that position — to always be forced to live up to some unattainable goal. Another part of me thought another dog would diminish Ellie’s memory in the kids’ minds. Part of me felt like it would be a betrayal to Ellie – to love another dog. And, then there’s the cost of a new dog, a cost that I felt guilty not spending on Ellie, to maybe buy her more time, make her more comfortable.
But, in my heart, I knew we’d get another dog… someday.
That day came sooner than expected.
Kyle called me from work and basically said, let’s go get a puppy.
There was a litter we’d considered, but… frankly… there were several litters we’d considered and then decided we weren’t quite compelled enough to move forward.
But, for whatever reason, we went back to that last litter and thought, well… if they still have that one puppy we liked, we’ll see.
As it turned out, that puppy was still available, but someone was coming to look at her and her sister right then.
So, then we said, well, we’ll see if she’s still there after that person leaves.
And, then she was.
Kyle looked at me imploringly and I said, let’s just go look.
We surprised the kids — told them we were going to buy some more discs for Kyle disc golf habit. (This is a real addiction for him — so no big shock there.) On the drive over, I kept thinking how unprepared we were… The house wasn’t puppy proofed yet. The kids haven’t healed yet. I hadn’t healed yet. But, what was the harm in looking?
We didn’t tell the kids anything until we pulled into the breeder’s driveway. They immediately burst into tears. I’m pretty sure they were happy/sad tears, since I had a few leaking from my eyes, as well.
I was far more impressed with the breeder than I expected. I was far more impressed with their environment than I expected. And, the puppies had the very best mom. She was sweet, gentle, calm, confident, quiet and highly intelligent, so much like our Ellie. The breeder showed us all her tricks and we were impressed. But, then we saw the puppies… Gosh, it’s impossible to not love a troupe of puppies barreling, tripping, yipping across the yard to you.
I immediately spotted our girl, notable because her white markings where all her siblings were solid brown. She licked our faces and stared in our eyes with her crystal green ones. I told myself to be logical. So, I checked her all over to make sure she was healthy, flipped her on her back to make sure she was submissive enough to trust me, watched her interact with the kids and her litter mates.
After a little discussion, we left with our puppy. Our new little lady.
The kids named her Emmeline and call her Emme. It’s close to Ellie and that’s fine by me.
In many ways, this puppy has reminded me of Ellie. And, each time she does, it stings a little bit. I’m glad we didn’t get another golden for that reason alone. We already had enough reminders.
But, in dozens of other ways, she’s her own little creature. That’s fine by me, too.
I still have sad spells, crying spells, aching spells. But, this puppy has been such a distraction. I wasn’t aware of how badly we all needed that. We haven’t had a puppy in 13 years and I forgot how challenging they are, but it’s a challenge we’re all up for — if only to get to that place where we were with Ellie — complete trust, complete love, complete devotion, complete family.
**Note: This blog was weeks in the making… I’d write a little bit and then it got too hard and I’d stop. This is why the time frame is a bit off and I dip between past and present tense. I was going to edit it, but… again… too hard. So, I left it in its raw format. Oh, and fair warning, it’s long. **
Ellie came to our family 13 years ago, when I was newly married and sick with grief and never, ever, ever, ever wanted another dog.
At that point in my life, putting my 14-year-old lab down was the worst thing I’d ever been through. Even now, after years of challenges – losing a home, surgeries, medical scares, sitting with my children in hospitals – putting Spanky down still ranks up there with one of the most awful experiences of my life.
While I was still in the thick of mourning, Kyle came home late from work. I was annoyed. Even on a great day, I’d be annoyed. But, this day especially… I wasn’t sleeping, my heart was broken and I just wanted to crawl under the covers. I couldn’t believe he could be so insensitive as to be late. But, when he got out of the car, with a goofy grin and this little golden fuzzball tucked up under his arm, a portion of my heart smiled again.
I never picked Ellie out. Never saw her litter or met her parents. Never researched her breed or questioned her breeder. But, when Kyle handed me that little puppy, he handed me a best friend. Since that moment, Ellie has been loved every day – every minute – of her life.
From the beginning, Ellie seemed to understand that her job was to absorb the grief I’d been carrying. She was kind and gentle and earnest. Even as a playful puppy, she had a peaceful demeanor. It’s amazing how much dogs can communicate without words. She helped me get through that dark time and countless dark times after that… just by being there.
Ellie’s lifelong mission has been to make us happy. She just always wanted to do what we needed her to do. As soon as she figured out what that was, she did it every time. Without fail.
Throughout her life, she has only ever had two vices, which I’ve allowed because, when you have a dog that good, you allow them some foibles.
She digs. Ellie digs for the pure love of digging. She doesn’t bury anything. She doesn’t dig up anything. She just loves throwing dirt around. If you know Goldens… you know they smile. And, Ellie smiles her biggest and brightest when elbow-deep in fresh dirt. Even better is when she’s exhausted herself digging and can then wallow and nap in her efforts. (She requires lots of bathing and my floors require lots of mopping.)
She loves dirty laundry… especially socks. (The stinkier the better.) As a puppy, she would steal them, hoard them, hide them and then roll in them when she thought we weren’t looking. When that got old, she’d “show” you her prize. She’d prance in front of you with her sock, her tail wagging her whole body. Then she’d come rub it on you, drag it across your legs, jump up beside you and hold it in your face. But, oh… if you tried to grab it, she’d dash off with it. We lost soooo many socks that first year.
Quick story: One day, when she was still quite young, we had company over. After greeting everyone (see: bathing them in kisses), she ran off to our room. I kinda figured she’d come back with a sock since she always had one or two hidden under the bed for special occasions. But, she had bigger ideas than that.
A minute later, Ellie came running back in the room… proud as a peach… with my lingerie.
What ensued was several horrifying minutes (for us) and pure joy for our puppy. I kept better tabs on my lingerie from then on.
Here’s a fun fact about Ellie: She is completely housebroken and has been since her first week of life with us. She’s just so good about it. But, whenever I bring a baby home from the hospital, she poops on the floor. Just once. Every time. We don’t know why.
Is it excitement? Is it confusion? Is it a peaceful protest?
The world may never know.
My favorite thing is to make Kyle clean up those “welcome home” presents because Kyle has a powerful gag reflex and I have a sick sense of humor. (Oh, and I’ve just had a baby so… trump card!)
Despite her unusual habit, Ellie adores each one of our babies from the moment they come home. I’d often find her sleeping by the crib of whoever was the newest in our family. And… my goodness… she loves baby toes. Ellie would sometimes sit at the base of our baby swing, her head swaying with its rhythm, just doing her darndest to lick those little toes as they swung by.
Oh, and high chairs. I can’t forget that Ellie loves a baby in a high chair. For obvious reasons.
When Gabi was just a few weeks old and Ellie was just over a year, we had to evacuate for a hurricane. Since she was a baby puppy, Ellie has always gotten very car sick. Within the first 30 minutes of any car ride, Ellie loses her lunch… even if she didn’t have any lunch or any dinner. It always amazed me how much she could still throw up even with Dramamine! She’s mostly outgrown it, but it was really awful in her younger years.
Anyway, we were evacuating in Kyle’s little Dodge Stratus. I was in the back seat with our newborn so I could watch her and feed her, if need be. Ellie sat in the front seat and… I don’t know… probably fifteen minutes into our trip, she vomited in the cup holder. Our four-hour drive to high ground ended up being 14 hours because of evacuation traffic. During that time, Ellie threw up countless times into that cup holder. Each time, Kyle would sweat and dry heave and complain under his breath. I’ve never laughed so much in my life.
We lost our home in that hurricane and spent a year technically homeless – bouncing around to different family members’ homes with our newborn. We lost a lot in that storm. Everyone did. While we were trying to pick up the pieces, Ellie stayed with my sister in Arizona. We drove her halfway and yes… she was sick during most of it. I ached for her during that short time we were separated.
As soon as we got a home, we brought Ellie back. We just picked up where we left off. Gabi was starting to walk by that point and she would hold Ellie’s tail as she’d take those first shaky steps around the house.
Over time, all of our babies have taken those early unsure, wobbly steps gripping some piece of Ellie. It’s been a rite of passage. Looking back, I think she must have wanted it that way. She sure positioned herself to be at the right place, at the right time.
Life with Ellie has been amazing. We never have to worry if she’ll do the right thing, if she’ll behave in public, if she’ll walk nicely on a leash, if she’ll warmly welcome our guests – whether person or creature. When she was around two, she received her AKC Canine Good Citizen certification and she’s been an ambassador with several different groups to teach about pet care and safety, as well as do therapy work with children.
I’ve seen little kids who are deeply fearful of dogs warm up with Ellie. You can’t not love her.
I was always happy to share Ellie, but, she’s primarily been our therapy dog. That puppy has put in overtime in our home, keeping us all afloat at our lowest moments.
Ellie has loved my babies as much – or, if I’m being honest, sometimes better – than me. Never barks. Never bites. Never loses patience. (Whereas, I lose my patience all the time.) She loves to play with them, though she doesn’t fetch anymore or have much interest in toys. She allows them to dress her up. Smother her in blankets. Use her as a pillow when they’re watching movies. She welcomes them to dig with her, loves it when they play in the mud. (Gosh, she loves it when they’re naughty. I swear, she encourages them!) She still licks their toes and looks for dropped crumbs of whatever they’re eating. If they put a leash on her, she’ll trot along wherever they take her and, when her joints aren’t too creaky, she’ll do her tricks over and over and over, even though they never give her treats. She does it just for the sheer joy of hearing them giggle and clap.
It’s always been a policy that Ellie didn’t sleep in our bed. That’s the same policy we have with our kids. But, in both situations, rules have been broken.
Ellie sleeps with me whenever Kyle goes out of town. I need someone to fill his space in the bed. I need someone next to me who would also do whatever it takes to protect my babies. I’ve always known that — at the end of the day and as sweet as she is — Ellie would happily give her life to protect any one of us.
Happily. Like she does everything.
I’ve seen her in action only once when the kids were playing in my parents yard. Ellie and I were casually watching them when my uncle (who’s tall with a big beard) kinda popped up out of nowhere. It was the only time I’ve seen her growl or snap at anyone. She stopped the minute I said her name reassuringly, but I’m convinced she would’ve defended those babies to the utter end if I needed her to. I never forgot that and it made me feel safe.
I could go on forever about this puppy. And, I probably will for a long time. But, here comes the hard part…
Ellie is sick. And she’s not getting better.
We found a bump on her back earlier in the year. It wasn’t very big or remarkable. Just a bump. As an old dog, Ellie is full of bumps and weird smells and white fur. She’s earned the right to be a funny-smelling, bumpy old lady. Plus, the vet said bumps here and there aren’t a big deal in an older dog.
But, over time we noticed that Ellie’s also been doing some other weird things. Barking and crying a lot – especially for a dog that has spent her life never doing much of either. She would be ravenous for water, even when she had a fresh bowl sitting right by her. She’d throw up occasionally – no rhyme or reason why. Her stools weren’t normal. Her diet’s been off and she’s been eating odd things that aren’t food. She’s been extremely lethargic, like even more so than usual. I would have to force her to get up and come inside because once she laid down somewhere, she never wanted to move.
Again, we talked to the vet and there were a lot of possibilities as to why… dogs throw up sometimes, she may have eaten something that’s upsetting her stomach, she could be anxious, her vision is getting bad, her hearing is getting bad… She’s just getting confused more often… Everything was always summed up with: she’s getting older.
Until, finally, this Easter, we found that the small bump on her back wasn’t a bump anymore. It was a mass – a large, grapefruit-sized, weepy, puss-filled mass. Almost overnight it’d gone from nothing to definitely something.
We took her right in to the vet. They frowned and scratched their heads. They did a biopsy. Did some more frowning. And, eventually said – inconclusive. They couldn’t tell if it was cancer or not.
Inconclusive is a terrible word, you know. Not quite relief. Not quite dread. Just worry.
When you have an older dog, you have to be proactive, but conservative. So, we did the less invasive route of treating it like a skin infection. She was on handfuls of medications. And, after some time passed, it had gotten much, much better! We thought we were home free…
… Until, it came back weeks later.
So, we treated it again.
It got better, then came back again.
So, we tried again.
But, each time it came back, it was worse than before and she’d exhibit new symptoms.
She also started growing new bumps. Two on her head, one by her eye. With less fur on her head, we could see them more clearly… and they were getting bigger every day.
Our final options were to either do surgery or put her down. The catch is there’s no guarantee that she’ll wake up from the surgery. In fact, the odds aren’t great that she will. (Her whole life, Ellie’s had trouble with anesthesia and pain medication.)
And, then there’s the question of what surgery would do. Would it buy us a year? A few months? And, what would that time look like? Could she still play? Could she still dig? Would she still enjoy being around the kids? Would the other symptoms go away? Would we eventually need to operate on the new bumps?
It’s been a slippery slope of miserable considerations. Either choice has felt unbearable.
Privately, Kyle and I have debated what to do… prayed about what to do… cried about what to do… stayed up late talking about what to do… We’ve changed our minds a dozen times. Made decisions, then made other decisions.
There are no easy choices.
I finally stopped praying that Ellie would get better and started praying that I would know when we should stop trying to fix her.
When you start changing your prayers… That’s when you kinda know. Even if you don’t want to know.
The confirmation I was looking for came sooner than expected.
Last Sunday, we let Ellie out before we left for church. She wasn’t acting right… there’s no real way to describe it… She just seemed off… like she was there but not there at the same time. And, then she got sick… all over the yard. And, then she laid down and wouldn’t get up.
I hate that the kids saw it because it terrified them. We rustled them into the car while Kyle went back to try to get Ellie moving again and see what was going on. In the car, Gabi kept crying, “Are we putting her down? Are you guys thinking of putting her down? Please, tell me we’re not putting her down…”
I couldn’t answer her. I could only cry.
And, so they cried. And, we all cried all the way to church. We could only stay for a little bit before we had to come back. No one could stop crying.
After weeks of not knowing, Kyle and I finally knew what we should do. It was an awful, awful realization. But, we can’t watch her suffer. We can’t put her through anymore pain.
We had an honest conversation with the kids. It was as heartbreaking as I thought it might be. They understand, but it doesn’t make it easier.
These babies haven’t lived a day of their lives without that puppy. They haven’t spent a day wondering where she was. They haven’t had a morning when she wasn’t thrilled to see them. They haven’t spent a night without her watching over our house. They haven’t spent a minute outside in the backyard without her dancing at their feet, begging them to let her go, too.
They are broken over this. We are all broken over this.
This is our family member. This was our “firstborn in the wilderness,” as we often joke. This is my baby. This is our baby.
Ellie is a selfless creature. But, now, loving her is requiring us to be selfless. And, I hate it. Because, I want so badly to put this off. I want so badly to fix it. I want so badly to throw every dollar I have at this problem and pray it’s enough to make it go away. But, I love her. So much. And, loving her means that I know it’s time to say goodbye.
Yesterday, my dad came over to visit with the kids. He knows this is hard for all of us. He’s been through it himself…
During the visit, Holland asked my dad if he had a dad.
My dad said, “Yes, I do! He lives in heaven.”
And, Holland said, “He does? Does he like dogs?”
You see, since Sunday, Holland’s been looking for someone who will take care of Ellie in heaven.
My dad assured him that his daddy does love dogs – very much – and, he’d be happy to take care of Ellie for us. I’m holding out hope that he will.
Those are the things that kill you. That shatter you into a million pieces. Feeling that grief yourself, but then watching your kids hurt…
It’s. The. Worst.
I’ve worried that sharing this with the world will turn off others off from owning a dog. So, I just want to end this by saying that, no matter how bad it hurts, the joy Ellie’s given us over the years has far, far exceeded this pain.
The trend for my reading this year seems to be this: heavy.
Recently, I checked out Being Mortal from the library. It’s been on my TBR for awhile, it was checked in, I was looking for something non-fiction and I’ve heard it compared to When Breath Becomes Air, which is one of my favs… so, it seemed like a no-brainer.
I didn’t expect light reading, but I didn’t know that this book would ROCK me.
First of all, it is NOT like When Breath Becomes Air. I mean, I guess it is in the sense that they’re both written by doctors and address death, but they’re totally different books. If you go in expecting WBBA, you’ll be disappointed.
Instead of being a firsthand account of someone dying, Being Mortal addresses death from a somewhat removed standpoint. It discusses how we handle and treat terminal or aging patients. It examines the pros and cons of assisted living and nursing homes. It gives personal accounts of dying patients, including the author’s own father. And, it does everything in a factual, logical way.
Being Mortal is a confrontation on mortality.
It says: here is your body. It will die. Here’s what you need to be ready for. Here’s how to give yourself the best possible life and the best possible death.
The thing that really broke me about this book is the timing…
My mom’s been sick for over a year now. At times, I have more hope than others that she’ll get better. Since her first doctor’s visit, I’ve wished and hoped and prayed that this is all temporary… some trial she’ll endure for a bit and then be released from. Even now, I **still** want that more than anything.
However, while reading this book, she was readmitted to the hospital for another biopsy, which, as per the trend, became more complicated and distressing than expected.
Before reading Being Mortal, I saw my mom’s health journey as a linear path to more and more medical treatments, medicine and interventions until… well, until she was healed. This surgery was just another important step towards normal.
It was a hard thing to accept, but this booked helped me see that my expectations might not be realistic.
I now feel more willing to have the hard conversations and face the realities as they come. Sure, I wish things were better. I wish something would “cure” her. But, now I see that the next medical step may not be the best choice. There will always be one more thing we can do, one more medication, one more test. But, what if that’s not what she wants? What if she decides to be done?
More than anything, I want my mom to be happy. I want her to be comfortable. I want her to feel at peace with her choices. I want her normal to be my normal. I want to respect her and honor her and do whatever I can to make her life easier.
And, when my day comes… because it will… I want the same thing – peace, comfort, love and security. I want to be with my family. I want to be in my home. I want to be surrounded by the people and things I love. I want to leave this world better than I found it and be remembered for the good that I did.
It feels morbid to discuss… morbid to even think about… but, literally – we’re all dying. All of us. And, how we die matters. I think this book helped me accept that more than any other experience in my life.
I’m grateful for reading just the right books at just the right times, even when they’re really, really heartbreakingly difficult.
Most of my earliest childhood memories involve books.
I can remember my dad reading to me (especially this book) in our worn out recliner every night.
I remember my sisters reading to me in bed.
I remember my mom buying me books and singing to me and doing all the wonderful things moms do… But, honestly, not a lot of reading from her.
My mom’s always been more of a creator than a consumer.
Sure, she’ll read her scriptures. She’ll flip through a Woman’s World magazine that she picked up in the grocery store aisle, scanning for recipes or diet tips (my mom LOVES a diet tip!). Oh, and there was that one time she got hooked on a church book series about pioneers and read all nine books faster than anything we’d ever seen.
But, overall, she likes to do things and make things.
On a quiet evening, we’d most likely find her painting or doing needlework or sewing or cooking… never just sitting around and watching TV or reading.
I’ve just always grown up with this belief that my mom is not a reader. (And, I’ve always secretly envied mother/daughter duos who swap books and stories.)
Well, that’s all suddenly changed.
Last year, my mom was diagnosed with an unspecified lung disease. Basically, the arteries in her lungs collect clots that restrict air flow and drastically reduce her oxygen levels. She’s on medication and stays on a constant flow of oxygen. We’re all praying she’ll completely recover and get back to her old self. But, in the meantime, her lifestyle has drastically changed.
Around the time that my mom got sick, my mother-in-law, who is a reader, began funneling books through me to my mom in a show of goodwill.
I dutifully passed them on, but I was fairly certain they’d be returned unread. No way was my mom reading all those books! And, now that she was sick, she’d be even more stir crazy. Sitting and reading would be torturous for her!
Well, the first stack of books came back. Not only had they been read, but my mom wanted to talk about them.
Then the next stack came back.
And then the next.
And, so it’s gone for the past several months.
My mom is a book addict. I am her dealer. My mother-in-law is her supplier.
It’s really the strangest thing.
She was over at my house last weekend and we were talking about books (because, at this point, we’ve read some in common) and I just had this weird sensation come over me that I was actually having quite the fulfilling, bookish conversation with my mom!
I can’t tell you how much I love this.
But, let me try…
I also love this lady who is my mother. She reminds me all the time that life is meant to be lived and that you’re never too old or too sick or too anything to reinvent yourself.
I love to take a hot bath at the end of the day. I love to take a hot bath when I’m sick or have a headache or need a good cry. I love to take a hot bath when I have a good book that needs reading. I love to have a hot bath when I’ve found a new scented bubble bath I love. I love to take a hot bath when I need to shave my legs, deep condition my hair or any other sort of luxury that reminds me that I’m a woman.
It’s been a habit in my marriage to sometimes take a hot bath with KJ, for no other reason than to talk and laugh with each other.
When we were house shopping several years ago, I was shocked to discover that some homes *only* have showers! (Gasp! Why?!) I quickly let my realtor know that this was a dealbreaker. All the granite in the world couldn’t make up for a bathtub!
I’m getting off on a tangent. This post really isn’t about a bathtub. It’s about a bubble.
Last night, I was taking a bath. I had washed my hair and body just prior to filling the tub up, so there were some bubbles, but not much. So, when I finally leaned back in the tub, it caught my attention to see two little bubbles floating in the air. One, in particular, caught my attention.
I watched it as it floated along. It would near the surface of something and I’d think, it’s going to pop, but just at the last minute, it would change course. It slowly and steadily rose up to the ceiling near our air vent. Again, I thought it would pop. But, it didn’t.
I kept watching, at this point mesmerized. This little bubble had my full attention.
Slowly, it descended.
And, through a meandering, unpredictable course it landed… right on my lips!
After it gently grazed my lips, the air I’d exhaled ever so slightly blew it toward the water at my side, where it settled as a perfect little sphere on the water.
The moment it touched me, I was filled with a warmth and peace that I can’t describe. It felt like magic. Something magical just happened. I didn’t know what or why, but it had.
This morning I called my mom to tell her about the bubble. I have the amazing sort of parents who don’t think anything is strange about a spiritual encounter with a bubble.
As I finished talking my mom said, “You know, my mother loved a bubble bath. She took one every night. When she was paralyzed for the year before she died, that’s what she always said was the worst part of it — that she couldn’t soak in the tub. And, she always did love to kiss on the lips!”
I remember that.
My mamaw did kiss on the lips. My pawpaw did, too.
I don’t know if that bubble was a little kiss from my mamaw. I don’t know if it was just a little divine reminder to be present and pay attention to life’s little magic tricks. I don’t know if it was just a little token of love from God.
But, there was a little piece of joy in that little bubble. And, I’m glad I caught it.
I’m someone who is deeply affected by circumstance.
I wish that wasn’t the case and I’m working on it. But, for now, it’s true.
Generally, when I surround myself with happy things, I’m happy. When I let negativity creep in, I’m sad.
I don’t believe that life can be lived constantly in a positive place. Bad things will happen. Life will spin out of control. Anxiety will grab you by the throat. Fear will stifle your dreams. I believe this is just part of the human existence. To deny it could be spiritually fatal.
Though they say life is about learning how to dance in the rain, I tend to believe life is about recognizing you’re in the middle of a freakin’ storm and figuring out how to get the heck outta there.
So, when things get too much for me, I like to read. In particular, I like to read happy things.
Mitford is a happy place. The people aren’t perfect, but they’re trying. The main character, Father Tim, is a regular guy who makes regular mistakes and has regular triumphs.
Spoiler alert: The climax of the entire book is when the poor rector has his dog stolen (and eventually returned) by some thugs. So, not too heavy a plot in the grand scheme of things.
Mitford was my “chaser” book when I read Columbine.
But, I stayed there awhile.
Life has been too much lately. Too much uncertainty. Too much stress. Too much discontent.
Spending some time in Mitford was the restorative escape I needed until I could get to an emotional higher ground.
I’m glad to know places like that still exist, even if only between the pages of a good book.
So, this year I’m doing the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge and was compelled to read “a book in a genre you usually avoid.”
I wanted to go ahead and knock this category out, knowing that it might fall off the list as my enthusiasm waxed and waned throughout the year. (Plus, who wants to read a book they probably won’t like at Christmas? Best get that out of the way now, I say.)
And, so, I went outside my comfort zone and checked out Columbine by David Cullen from the library.
In order to get through this book, I had to employ my “chaser” method. I’d read a few chapters and, once I felt sufficiently disturbed, I’d read At Home in Mitford. And, at night, fuhgettaboutit. I couldn’t read Columbine at all. (Thank you, Father Tim, for getting me through!)
Despite my desperate desire to abandon this book, I persevered to the bitter end.
Well, I’m not entirely sure.
I suppose I’m the sort of person who hates to give up on books – even ones that distress me. I’m also the sort of person who doesn’t like giving up on a challenge – even ones that distress me.
But, I also felt like I was learning… even if I didn’t particularly like what I was learning, it was knowledge nonetheless. And, maybe someday, it would be knowledge I would need to know.
( Aside: To me, knowledge is kinda like that practical item that you stock up on when you find it on sale at the store. It’s not particularly exciting to buy your weight in toilet paper, but I’d rather get it while it’s cheap than have to learn its value the hard & costly & possibly embarrassing way!)
So, what did I learn…
Well, a lot.
But, maybe most importantly I learned how difficult it is for our society, myself included, to acknowledge the reality of evil. We justify things until its reduced down to something we can cognitively accept. We over-analyze things until we can almost sympathize with anyone and anything. Perhaps this is a good thing most of the time. Empathy. Compassion. Introspection. Hope. Forgiveness. These are not bad things! But, sometimes, it’s a huge mistake to underestimate what humans are capable of doing.
For so long, I believed that Columbine was wrought at the hands of two victims, oppressed by systematic bullying, who snapped in a moment of madness. That idea was false. I probably believed that they were both afflicted by mental illness… depression or schizophrenia… or who knows… something biologically beyond their control that collided with a furious anger and erupted in a gruesome way. That idea was also false… to a degree.
Columbine occurred because there is evil in the world. It may be scary to confront that, but shutting our eyes and sticking our fingers in our ears doesn’t make it go away.
Certainly, there were several factors that contributed to this truly horrific massacre and many we can never, ever understand. But, I believe that the bottom line is that Columbine happened because two very angry, sadistic individuals in an act of absolute hatred chose to view human life as disposable.
I believe they each had their own unique issues that propelled them to that fateful day. And, I believe that their plan wasn’t thwarted, despite the many clues they left and the dozens of opportunities friends, peers, coworkers, teachers, administrators, parents, police officers and more had to intervene, simply because no one wants to believe this level of violence and malice exists in this world. I don’t blame them. I don’t want to think about that either.
This book made me deal with those uncomfortable realities.
I don’t believe this level of malevolence is common. I don’t believe the world is a bad place, filled with bad people. But, ignoring the outliers just because they don’t fit with what we want to believe about the world has proven to be catastrophic.
Some things can’t be prevented. It’s scary to accept that. We can’t control everything. We can’t stop everything. Despite all the education, awareness, lawmaking, prevention in the world, this can happen. This did happen.
But, that won’t stop me from praying that it won’t.
My heart aches for the victims of Columbine. For the parents. For the parents of the murderers. For the community. And, for anyone who’s had to directly face this sort of evil.
(PS – I noticed after writing this that I never said the murderers names. I don’t know why that’s hard for me, even in my private discussions of the book with friends and family. Maybe it’s like a Voldemort phenomenon. Or, maybe it’s just that I’m too appalled to give them any credit. I’m not sure. But, there it is.)